Add 236 missing fatalities to Tamil Nadu’s Covid-19 toll: Panel

The 236 deaths reported from Chennai which were missing from the state’s tally should be considered as suspected Covid-19 deaths, a committee formed to reconcile the numbers has said in its report, two senior officials in the state health department confirmed to the Hindustan Times.

“The reconciliation exercise is complete and we have submitted the report to the government,” a senior official of the Tamil Nadu Directorate of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (DPH) said.

In early June, the (DPH) found that the death registry maintained by the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) recorded 236 deaths that were not added to the state’s tally. On June 12 the DPH formed a committee to reconcile Covid-19 related deaths for Chennai, which had reported 294 deaths till then.

The committee, headed by Dr P Vadivelan, has submitted the report to the state government, which will study it before making a final decision on the total number of deaths, the two officials said.

The panel studied the 530 deaths reported from Chennai’s government and private hospitals between March and June 12.

With respect to the 236 deaths, the panel had to study what constituted a Covid-19 death, the officials said.

“Few experts were of the opinion that 49 out of the 236 deaths should be deducted because the primary cause of death was not Covid-19, though they tested positive,” a senior official of the health department who did not wish to reveal his identity, said.

Medical experts of the panel additionally studied 21 deaths of Covid-19 positive persons that occurred at home, the senior official said.

Tamil Nadu follows the Indian Council of Medical Research protocol of registering a Covid-19 death, even if the person dies due to other comorbidities or is terminally ill but has tested positive.

“Even if a person dies by suicide or of leukaemia but is positive, we register it as a Covid-19 death,” the health department official quoted above said.

The mismatch in the tally was attributed to a procedural lapse by some private hospitals, which are meant to report Covid-19 related deaths to both the GCC and the DPH, but reported the numbers only to the former. Home deaths are also recorded by the corporation, which oversees the city’s 68 burial grounds.

“When bodies came wrapped as per Covid-19 protocols, we entered it as a Covid death in the registry at the burial ground,” said GCC commissioner G Prakash.

While the city health officer is the registrar who issues death certificates in Chennai, the DPH is the chief registrar of births and deaths

GCC officials said that following this mismatch, they have been updating the DPH of deaths it registers every day.

On July 4, Chennai reported 37 out of 65 deaths in Tamil Nadu on that day, taking the toll to 1,033 and 1,450, respectively.

It is as yet unclear if the verified deaths from the 236 cases were simultaneously added to the state’s health bulletin. In the June 13 bulletin, a special character was introduced in the Chennai column to denote reconciled figures which included a few deaths from May.

On June 17, Maharashtra added 1328 fatalities to its Covid-19 death tally after a reconciliation exercise. A death audit committee was also formed in Delhi after the municipalities and the state reported separate figures of deaths due to the coronavirus.

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